Follett: We are not the problem

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the price of textbooks has increased 812 percent since 1978, significantly outstripping increases in health care, housing, and the general cost of living index.

Students do not have the option of buying textbooks direct from the publishers such as McGraw-Hill, Cenage, and Pearson, relying instead on a network of brick-and-mortar- and online options.
For many JSC students, that option includes the college’s Summit Bookstore, which is run by Follett Higher Education Corporation, operator of about 1200 campus stores selling everything from textbooks to hoodies.

Haleigh Morgan Sr., external communications specialist at Follett, is well aware of the high cost of textbooks. “The rising cost of higher education has many students and parents seeking ways to cut expenses” said Morgan in an interview with Basement Medicine. “We’re doing our best to deliver cost-saving materials to ensure all students have access to the materials needed for success.”

When asked about Follett’s retail prices, Summit Bookstore manager Ron Osborn declined comment, referring this reporter instead to an informational packet dealing with textbook pricing. The packet, said Morgan, was created specifically to address questions and concerns surrounding this issue. “We created this white paper to inform our campus partners and the higher education community about textbook pricing,” said Morgan. “It also advises on some key steps that can be taken by faculty and the campus store to keep text costs down.”

Follett says that the average cost of a textbook in 1978 was $25, which adjusted for inflation is the equivalent of $91.24 today. Even so, books often cost more than $100 today.

“According to the National Association of College Stores, on average, students need six required course materials per term, and they spend an average of $626 for the required course materials per school year,” said Follett.

So, according to Follett, who is making what?

Assume a student buys a $100 textbook. According to Follett’s pamphlet, the campus bookstore only makes $4.50 on that textbook, and the publisher $7. Of course, the authors of the book do have to get paid for their work, and so they receive $11.60.

This means that if a textbook costs $100, the bookstore, publisher and author are only collectively making $23.10.

The rest of that textbook cost, $76.90, goes into making the book, including printing, marketing, shipping and general costs on the publisher’s end.

As for the profit that goes to the stores, “Roughly 18 cents of every dollar goes toward operational costs such as rent, utilities and payroll,” said Morgan.

“Follett and our campus stores, work hard to keep prices competitive” he said. “We help students save on textbooks by offering choices like rental, digital and the largest selection of used books in the industry. Unlike online retailers, the campus store also provides students with value by allowing the use of financial aid, making it easy to return or exchange books and ensuring students have the right materials. And, we support the school and local community by creating jobs and scholarships.”

Among the cost-saving options Follett points to is returns. If the student does buy the book, if there isn’t a newer edition coming out, they most likely have the chance to sell back the book. At best, however, according to a chart published by Follett, by selling back a book, a student can get back half of what they paid. “The amounts are based on the assumption that the used book is in excellent condition and there is demand for the book” says Follett.

For students faced with room, board and tuition costs, whatever cost-saving options Follett offers may be of little consolation as their debts mount.